Increasing the open access to nutrition and food data for ICT developers has resulted in a surge in applications for a healthier food intake and better fitness.
Nowadays, technology has made it easier to manage our personal nutritional intake with the help of applications on computers and mobile devices, like phones or watches. Search, for example, in Google for food products, like carrots, chocolate cake or milk, and you get all the nutritional information directly on your search result page. You can use apps to scan your grocery to look up how many calories there are in your cart. And there are many fitness apps and devices, like Fitbit, that give extra information about nutrition and healthy food intake.
The data that makes these apps and devices running with adequate information comes from open data sources. One of the most influential comes from the United States. For example, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) operates the Agriculture Research Service that is gathering information from food manufacturers. When you Google certain nutrients, what Google actually does, is that it goes to the Agriculture Research Service databases to get their information. The USDA improves and extents its databases of nutritional information for food items regularly. The research agency is currently improving its Branded Food Products Database, which is an expansion of the USDA National Nutrient Database, which offers information on 8,800 branded foods and serves as a data source for government agencies, researchers, and the food industry.
Quality control measures
Most of the data comes from the manufacturers that submit their food products to the service. Then the information undergoes quality control measures at the Agriculture Research Service to ensure it lines up correctly and no mistakes were made. All data is in the public domain, there is no copyright and no permission is needed for its use by ICT developers.
USDA’s API provides Representational State Transfer (REST) access to the food composition databases. It is intended primarily to assist application developers wishing to incorporate nutrient data into their applications or websites. The API provides two kinds of reports: food reports which list nutrient values for specified food, and nutrient reports which provide lists of foods and their nutrient values for a specified set of nutrients. USDA currently limit the number of API requests to a default rate of 1,000 request per hour per API Key and it feels that this is adequate for most applications.
The goal USDA has for the National Nutrient Database is to expand to 1 million items, including store brands, international food items, and food from chain restaurants may follow. Because of this expansion of the database, the agency is looking into cloud services to increase its storage capacity. USDA also announced an update to the Global Agricultural Concept Scheme (GACS), a thesaurus containing 350,000 common agricultural data terms in 28 languages. USDA, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) collaborated to create the GACS data set. This collaboration is an example of how governments, non-profit organisations, businesses and researchers are capable of fostering scientific innovation by making data open and available to the public.
ODINE is the Open Data Incubator programme of the European Union. One of the start-ups that are included in the incubator programme is YuScale System that makes an app for nutritional values of food by making it easier for those with dietary requirements to keep track. The German start-up received 100,000 euros of ODINE.
25% of 415 million diabetics have to know the contained carbohydrates of each meal and most of the others have to lose weight. For both this is a lifetime challenge. The YuScale System is able to determine the nutritional values of ready-to-eat meals with a precision of 80%, by providing a fast but safe process. The app replaces human weakness of guessing and supports diabetics in everyday life and overweight and obese people to change their behaviour.
Agriculture Research Service website
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